Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Day in Bruges, Belgium

I see so many people older than me running marathons, biking competitively and what not (power to you guys!) and wonder, "Why? Why would you not sleep extra on a weekend and do this to yourself?" Enduring this level of physical stress will never be my thing. You can find me sitting in a corner drinking coffee and doing reading marathons, and that's about it. However, the only physically stressful thing I challenge myself to do is climb churches. I know that a few years down the line, the knee will go bad, the breath will become shorter, and I will not be able to do it anymore.

So in Bruges this morning, I found myself waiting in a long line to climb the Belfort. The interesting thing, and this I have seen nowhere else, is that they only allow a constant number of people to be up at the church at any given point of time. So when a person finishes climbing and viewing and comes down and goes out of the automated door, the other automated door opens, allowing one person in. One person goes out, one person gets in. Five people get out, five people get in.

Standing in line for an hour and half gave me a lot of time to think about things. The people in front of me spoke Korean and the ones behind me, Spanish. So I had no one to talk to. I wondered, why are they charging 10 € if there is no elevator and I have to do the climbing myself? 81 meters. 366 steps. Our home in Calcutta has about 80 steps that I am used to climbing in one go since childhood. This is more than 4.5 times of that. Usually when there are rest areas, I stop and pretend to take pictures, asking people behind me to go ahead while I catch my breath. This church looked bad ass. What if there are no rest areas?

Climbing 366 steps squeezed the life out of me. When they say getting on top of a church feels like a step closer to heaven, I exactly know what they mean. I was wondering whether my friends will laugh at me if I died climbing a church. This was made worse by a spiral staircase. The higher I rose, the narrower the staircase got. A steady stream of people were getting down and at one point, I was literally holding tight to a rope, my feet biggerr than the stairs.

I made it. Huffing and puffing, panting, cursing and feeling like Aunty Acid, I made it with one 30-second break in between. All of 366 steps. What I did not realize is climbing down a narrow stairway is way harder than climbing up. You don't need as much lung power, but you need balance and concentration. The good news is, I made it up and down in one piece without a ruptured lung or a herniated uterus.

All this labor made me crave sugar. I was having the best pineapple gelato at The Markt when a young man came running towards me, very politely asking if he can take a picture with me (which I misunderstood and thought that he wanted me to take a picture of him). Was I suddenly looking rock star material that a young man wanted a picture with me? Apparently, these four guys who are close friends are out in Bruges celebrating someone's bachelor party (although I swear, the guy didn't look one day older than eighteen). They were playing a competitive game. Four friends dispersed in the busy square trying to take pictures with as many girls of different nationalities as they could. The person who comes back with the most number of pictures of different nationalities wins. So I was his Indian girl. He was so well-mannered and he asked me so nicely that it was kinda endearing.

So that was it, a day well-spent in Bruges.


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